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Charlie Guest Posts Other People's Adventures

The Continuing Adventures Of Charlie The Scrapyard Touring Bike, By Kelly Diggle (Rider #4)

Today’s guest post is from Kelly Diggle, who has just come into ownership of Charlie the Scrapyard Touring Bike. Read about how Charlie was born, as well as the stories of his first and second big journeys. Take it away, Kelly…

I’d be lying if I said cycle touring has always been a dream of mine.

In fact, I blame my wanderlust and itchy-feet-syndrome on the books, blogs and adventurers that tell me over and over again that pedalling off into the distance is an absolute must!

This year I decided to listen. Having had my heart stolen during a 10 day trip to Iceland last year, I promised myself I’d return to find out what the island really had to offer – and what better way than exploring by bicycle for one whole month!

Following Tegan’s adventures with Charlie was what really set my motivation into full swing. Here was a girl, very similar to me, who had no experience but the sheer drive and passion to get on that bike and cycle across Spain (alone) to see her sister. Suddenly one of my biggest fears of travelling alone as a young female seemed irrational – if Tegan could do it, why couldn’t I?

After exchanging a few emails and by successfully portraying in earnest my desire – heck – my need to be the next person to take Charlie for a spin (mainly to remove all possible chance of changing my mind), Tegan happily gave me the address to go and collect the bike from Spain.

Too many people questioned my logic in going all that way for a bike and gear that cost no more than £25. As I answered for the 100th time: “because it’s an excuse to visit somewhere I have never been before!”

I started to believe that was the main thing I would get out of it. I was so very wrong. That 2 day trip taught me that strangers are incredibly helpful (they let you use their phone and give you lifts when you are lost), that travelling alone isn’t scary as long as you’re approachable, and that cycle touring is one of the most exciting, liberating means of travel that there is.

The ride between Alicante and Murcia airport was a straightforward route that hugged the coast. Albeit a small taster of what cycle touring is about, it gave me reassurance that I could do it and enjoy it and that Iceland is possible – all I have to do is get on the bike and ride.

This trip is about more than personal ambition. I want to promote solo female travel and support the belief that big adventure needn’t cost big money. With this in mind, I aim to spend no more than £1000 on the entire trip, including return flights. My choice in wild camping and stove-cooking is not only to keep the cost down but to encourage others to do the same. I hope my social media updates will highlight the positives to simple living, even for a short time on the road.

I have also pledged to fundraise for Tree Aid through this adventure, supporting their aim of planting 1 million seedlings. Through their work, people will be able to unlock the potential of trees to pull them out of poverty and help protect the environment — a cause I deem significant in this current time.

With less than 6 weeks to go, the fears are trying to trump my dream. Will I be safe camping alone with no trees for camouflage? What if I run out of water? Will I have a miserable time if it rains constantly? And will I make it round Iceland in time to catch my flight home?

I imagine most of these worries are normal and I will not let them stop me. In reality, what’s the worst that could happen?

Thanks, Kelly! Follow her journey on her blog and via @blue_eyed_view on Twitter, and if you’d like to support her cause, visit her Justgiving page to get involved.

Categories
Budgeting & Finance Guest Posts

How To Budget & Save For A Cycle Tour: A Foolproof Financial Plan

Today’s guest post has been put together by the very clever Ramona Marks, who is far more financially literate than I and thus far more qualified to write this, the ultimate guide to financial planning for big adventures. She’s living proof that it works, too. Take it away, Ramona…

You want to go on a big adventure? Great! You’ve already done the hardest work. Making the decision to challenge yourself is a really big accomplishment, and you haven’t even gone out the door.

My husband and I knew that we needed to get out of the city we were living in. We wanted to live somewhere green and rural, but hadn’t found the magic spot. But instead of waiting for somewhere to appear, we decided to get our finances in order so we could move when we were ready. And at the same time, we started saving for a bicycle trip around Europe.

Three years later, we haven’t settled in one place and we’ve never looked back. We’re living in Europe by house sitting and working remotely. Each summer we go on a one to three month bicycle tour. We could never have imagined that we could re-engineer our lives in this way. Once we decided to go, our momentum carried us to where we are now.

The next step after making the decision to go is to figure out how you’re going to do it.

No matter what you decide to do, you’re probably afraid of the financial side of things. And that’s perfectly normal. It’s not easy to change the way you relate to money. But it is possible. We were both in credit card debt, had (and still have) huge student loan debt, and had no financial safety net to fall back on. Neither one of us comes from a family that could do more than let us move in for a couple of months. It’s nice to know there’s a warm room somewhere that we can always return to, but even that prospect — of moving back in with our parents — helped us to get out and succeed at living our adventurous dreams.

Anyone can change their spending and saving habits. Anyone.

Most people assume that financial planning is an innate skill and either they’ve got it or they don’t. There may be some people who find it easier to control their finances, but if you want to learn, you can learn. Do you know basic addition and subtraction? You’re ready to go.

Right. Here are the 7 simple steps you’ll complete in order to get on the road.

Of these seven, there are three steps to start checking off immediately:

  1. Write up a budget of your current income and expenses
  2. Set a daily budget for your trip
  3. Create separate bank accounts

And four steps that will take some time:

  1. Figure out what’s happening to the rest of your money
  2. Pay off any credit card debt
  3. Set aside money for long-term debt payments
  4. Save the rest!

Yes, it’s ridiculously simple to whittle down financial goals into 7 steps. You don’t have to make it more complicated. There are no secrets that you won’t understand. If this sounds new to you, it’s just that nobody has bothered to tell you before. If it’s familiar, congratulate yourself on having a leg up. These are not complicated tools, just logical ways of approaching the way money comes in and goes out of your life.

Now let’s take each of these steps in turn and look at them in a little more detail.

1. The ‘B’ Word

Let’s start out with something scary: budgeting. Your personal monthly budget is nothing more than a tool you use to get a picture of your finances. At its simplest, it’s a list of every regular expense and all income, so you can see what your life actually costs. A budget is a list.

Creating a budget is not an instantaneous process. In fact, give yourself a couple of months to really get a handle on your budget. Most importantly, start paying attention now so you can figure it out within the next couple of months.

Today, perhaps right now, sit down with a piece of paper and your favorite writing implement and start listing the bills you pay on a monthly basis. Do it on paper. This list will include things like:

  • Rent
  • Utilities (electric, water, gas, waste disposal, phone bills)
  • Cell phone & data
  • Internet & cable
  • Loan payments (student loans, car loans, mortgage, medical or personal debt)
  • Insurance (car, health, liability, renter’s, home owner’s)

There will be others, probably. Anything you pay regularly. If an expense is not the same every month, estimate or calculate an average. Always lean toward higher amounts, round up. Any annual expenses should be included, but divide the annual expense into 12 and use that as the monthly amount for the monthly budget.

You won’t think of everything all at once. That’s okay. If you have credit card debt and you pay monthly, include that. But also look up and write down the total amount of all your debts somewhere on this piece of paper, so you know just how much money you’ll need in order to get out of credit card debt.

Move on to income when you stop thinking of expenses (others will come to mind eventually). Income is usually pretty easy. What is your take-home pay each month? Not your listed salary, but the amount that you put in your bank account and can spend.

You’re probably getting the picture. So let’s say you make €2000 per month and your bills add up to €1000. (This example is not meant to be realistic). The other €1000 is being spent where?

Well, obviously you’ve got to eat. This gets more complicated since you don’t get a bill for your monthly groceries. Try keeping receipts for a month and adding up your total expenses on groceries. This can be fun, really. How badly do you want to make this adventure happen? Is it too much to ask yourself to keep track of how often you eat out vs. eat at home? You’re doing detective work now.

2. A Daily Budget, Too?

An effective way to encourage yourself to be more thrifty is to calculate a daily budget for your trip and use the trip as the incentive to stop spending.

We set our daily spending budget at $100 per day for both of us, on average. That is a lot. Most people spend much less on bicycle tours, but we knew that to be comfortable we’d need to be able to stop and get a hotel from time to time. We also knew we’d be touring in Europe, which is notoriously expensive compared to places like, say, Thailand. For more information about budgeting for your trip, check out Travelling Two’s article on the cost of bicycle touring.

Once we had a daily budget, we convinced ourselves to eat at home all the time with a simple trick. Each time we were tempted to order delivery or go out for a meal, we would ask each other: “Would you rather have one more day out on the road, or would you prefer to go out drinking tonight?” Once you know how much money a day might cost on your trip, you’ll know just how many days you’re sacrificing each time you spend. Pose these kinds of questions to yourself each time you try to pull out your wallet.

3. Divide and Conquer

One way to impose controls on your spending is to actually separate your money along the lines of your budgetary hopes and dreams. You want to save £200 each month? Put it into a separate account. Want to cut down your spending? Give yourself a spending limit and transfer only that amount into your cash account. Make it harder to get the money out of various accounts so that you have to really think about each purchase.

And stop using your credit card. If you have to buy it with credit, you don’t need it. Cutting up credit cards is a nice idea, but most people are afraid to do that. Instead, try putting them in a jar of water and storing them in the freezer*. They’re still there, if you really, really need them.

* Credit to Katrina for this idea.

4. The Rest of Your Hard-Earned Cash

Now that you have an idea of what your monthly household budget is, you know how much you make and spend. Isn’t it fun? Do you feel ashamed and afraid now that you know? Nope, you feel in control and a bit baffled because you spend all your money every month. Most people do. It’s way easier to spend than to save. Now you’re finding out how you end up with an empty bank account just before each pay day.

The next step is two-fold. First, you have to look at your expenses and decide what you don’t need or how you can reduce the outpouring of cash. The biggest expense for many people is a car. If you have one and can find another way to commute, get rid of it. You’re probably spending way more money on it than you realize. Ditch your phone and only use Skype. Cancel all your subscriptions. If you live alone, move in with a friend and lower your rent. Whatever it takes.

Next, and this is going to be the hardest part, you have to stop spending money. Just stop. Consider every penny. Cheap things still cost money. It doesn’t matter how great a deal you get, you’re still spending.

You’re probably going to buy things for the trip. But ask yourself whether you’ll be bringing it along each time you think of buying something. You want that cute pair of shorts? Are they going to be one of the three pairs you take on your bicycle tour?

5. Getting Rid of Debt

How can you pay off credit cards? How can you start to save without constantly dipping into your savings account? It’s very likely that you’ve created bad habits around money. Most people have. Now you have to reverse past decisions (pay off your credit cards) and build new, good habits (save regularly).

Paying off debt should be your first priority. Not long term debts, of course, because then you’ll never leave. But credit card bills have to be payed in big lump sums if you want them to go away. Paying the minimum amount can actually allow your debt to get bigger.

You have to pay off credit card debt before you put money aside in savings, for the most part. The interest rate on credit card debt is so outrageous that you’ll never benefit from saving money while you’ve got credit card debt. You are losing money over time. If you already have savings that could pay off the debt, consider paying it off with your savings. Sounds scary, right? But then, after it’s paid, you can put the same amount of money that you were paying each month to the credit card company straight into a savings account. You’ll save more each month and it will add up again more quickly.

6. Dealing with Long Term Debt While You’re Away

It may seem like saving for the trip is hard enough, but if you’ve got debts like student loans, you’ll need to pay those, too. There’s always the option of a deferral or forbearance, but consider those options carefully. In the long run they make your debt grow bigger than it would have otherwise. Maybe that’s an okay trade-off for you. Just think about it carefully and make a considered decision.

The alternative is to have yet another account where you put savings for those long-term debts. Set up automatic payments from the debtor and have the monthly payment amount deducted from the account. Add up the total you’ll need to pay over the length of your trip. You’re going away for three months and your monthly bill is $100. That’s $300 you’ll need to put in the account. And for good measure, put in an extra $200, so that for the first couple of months after the trip you don’t have to stress about the loan payment.

7. Save, Save, Save

And if you can start saving, start saving. Start small at first. The first step to changing your habits is to do things differently. If you can save €10 per month at first, do it. The only benefit of starting to save before you pay off credit card debt is that you’ll be getting into the habit of putting aside the money. It won’t take long until putting aside money will start to feel really good. People get addicted to saving. Think about that.

Create a piggy bank. A jar will do. Every time you come home with cash, put all the cash in the bank. Don’t leave home with cash (unless you need it for public transport). Cash is too easy to spend. Will you go get a coffee? Sure, you’ve got a fiver, right? Oh, you’ve got to make a €3 charge with your debit card? Never mind.

And if you can sell anything, sell. You’ll be able to put all the money you make towards paying off credit card debt or put it directly into savings for the trip. It will feel good to lighten your load of possessions, too.

We started selling furniture on Craigslist four months before we left. We also had two garage sales. At the first one, about a month before we left, we were naming high prices because we felt like the stuff we had was kind of valuable. At the second one we were practically giving things away because we were leaving in a week and we didn’t want to deal with stuff anymore. We made about the same amount, $500, at each garage sale.

A Financial Plan and a Calendar

Everyone’s financial situation looks a bit different. You may need to save for a longer or shorter amount of time, depending on the amount of money you need to save for your trip and the amount of money you can save every month.

Let’s do a bit of math. Let’s say your goal is to save for a three month trip and it’ll cost you about $35 per day. That’s 90 days at $35 per day: 90 x 35 = $3150. That’s your savings goal. You’re also going to need money for gear and the plane ticket, but let’s start with your basic needs for the trip.

Now let’s say that you need to pay off your credit card debt first, at it’s a whopping $2000. Crap.

How much money can you spare per month? Let’s say you can start out by reducing some expenses and putting $300 towards credit card debt per month. (Sounds like a lot? Start making your own lunches). 2000 / 300 = 6.66.

It’ll take about seven months to pay off that $2000, probably a bit longer because of the interest. After that, you can put that $300 into savings each month. How long will it take to get to $3150? 3150 / 300 =10.5 months. All-in-all that’s less than a year and a half.

You haven’t even figured out how much money you’ll make from selling your belongings or doing a bit of overtime when you can. Taking a few spare shifts from a co-worker. Picking up odd jobs on weekends.

We started the process of paying off credit card debt about two years before we left. At first, we just decided we needed to change our habits because we needed to save so we could leave. But we had no set date. We pooled our finances and used some savings I had to pay off much of my husband’s credit card debt. A few months later the money he had been putting towards that debt started going back into savings.

Once we really started saving, we set a date for about 9 months in the future. Four months before we left, we started selling everything we owned. For the last week in our place, we slept on the floor on our camping mattresses. But we were as happy as can be, because we were about to embark on the trip of a lifetime and we had the savings in the bank to make it happen.

New Solutions

Every financial problem has a solution. But unless you know what’s going on with your finances, you’re flying blind. Address each problem at it’s root and a solution will appear.

The really scary thing is that you’re going to be leaving your life behind and you may not know what you’re coming back to. Will you have a job? Will you have to move in with your parents? Should you save three months’ worth of rent and expenses so that you can start fresh even without an income?

If you own your home, you may decide to rent it out to pay the mortgage while you’re gone. What’s that going to involve? If it sounds overwhelming, break it into pieces. Problem solving 101: turn a big problem into a bunch of smaller problems that are much easier to tackle.

If you’re feeling anxious about taking this big leap, save for after the trip. Yes, there is one more savings account you might need. If what you need to do is set aside some savings for when you return, do it. All too often, people are afraid to do what they’ve been dreaming of doing because they feel they’re being irresponsible. Fine, be responsible and save so you’re not destitute when you return. You’re a pro at saving now, so just go for it. Extend the time before you leave so that when you leave you’re comfortable.

We have an account that has money saved for when we ‘settle down’. We said that if we had to use that money, it was time to stop and settle down. Guess what? The money is still there. We even try to add to it when we can.

This trip you’re dreaming about is going to change everything for you. You’re going to think about the world in a different way. You’ll think about life in a different way. And everything is going to be just fine.

Phew! Crash-course in financial literacy or what? Thanks, Ramona! Be sure to check out her own cycle touring blog. And don’t forget that plenty more on the subject of planning bike tours can be found on the mega resources page.

Categories
Guest Posts Inspiration

Why Casting Bicycle Touring As A Sporting Achievement Is Completely Missing The Point

Today’s guest post is from Victoria Cadman, who has completed several solo, long-distance bike journeys across Europe as part of an extremely ill-defined idea to explore the history of the continent.

I asked her to write about the perception of cycling as a sporting endeavour, why transferring the goal-oriented mentality to travel is missing the point, and why cycle touring need have nothing to do with sport whatsoever. Take it away, Victoria…

Me3 copyA couple of years ago, I was cycling across France, en route to Italy. I was about to begin a second long tour in Europe, but was not in particularly good shape.

As a consequence I was ‘late’ – well, taking longer than I wanted to get there. I was bad-tempered and frustrated. My legs hurt. A lot. And as I whirred up the last hairpin, a man emerged from a huge black 4x4 by the roadside. Looking at my laboured breathing, he nodded sagely, tapped his temple and said,

‘C’est tous dans la tête.’

It’s all in the head.

Now, this man was pretty hefty — one of the few fat Frenchmen I’ve ever encountered — and he’d clearly done nothing more energetic than drive up that hill in a very long time. Meeting his eye, my over-riding feeling was that it was pretty easy for him to say. I grimaced in acknowledgement, and carried on upwards, muttering unprintable retorts under my breath.

Three days later, I recalled the encounter as I approached the Col du Grand St Bernard, 8,000 odd feet up in the Alps. And, grinding out the last truly hideous 4 km of hairpins (with panniers), it still felt pretty much like it was all in the legs. But once I was coasting down the other side, and my thighs were no longer screaming, I thought back to my fat French friend, and of course, concurred.

It is all in the head. But marshalling my stubborn pride and determination to climb the hill wasn’t the issue. The issue was the fact that I’d become so obsessed with meeting my daily ‘target’ that I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey.

Maybe it’s me, or my group of friends, but the ‘Rise to the Challenge!’ mentality suddenly seems to be everywhere. Charity bike rides, triathlons, marathons. I regularly see people with heart-rate monitors on, sprinting as they push their kid’s prams through London streets. People in their own world in the gym, grimacing on the treadmill, not kicking a football about with friends in the park, or messing about on bikes.

Of course, I don’t want to knock setting goals or taking up personal challenges – far be it from me to judge what motivates or inspires others to get on their real or metaphorical bike. But I can’t help wondering if, with all this competitive pressure to do the Trans-America Cycle Race or the Marathon des Sables, we haven’t lost at least part of the plot. Alumni, staff and students from my old college recently embarked on a cycle ride from the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Although it’s great they raised £300,000 to support students, they seem to have got so focused on racing 750 miles in 11 days that they forgot to actually ride from Oxford to Venice, let alone having time to see what there was on the route.

Such endeavours are frequently sold as ‘inspiring’, part of the mission to make us more active, lose weight and tackle the obesity crisis; to get children cycling and develop grassroots sport. But I wonder how successful they really are, or whether they can actually be counter-productive? Do they make having adventures or exploration seem like the province of über-athletic ‘other folk’? Quite apart from the time and expense required, not to mention the back-up team, a person like Maria Leijerstam, physically and mentally tough enough to cycle across Antarctica to the South Pole, is pretty remote from your average Joe or Josephine. Does something like that really allay the fears of the woman down my road who’s not cycled in ten years, and is concerned she’ll crash or have a heart attack if she gets on her bike? Does it reassure someone worried about joining a cycle group, imagining that everyone else will look like Laura Trott in their frighteningly professional — and tight — lycra cycling kit, whilst she’ll be labouring, out-of-breath and on her own at the back?

High-octane adventures are impressive, even awe-inspiring in some cases, but I can’t help wondering if the ‘delusions of hardship’ or adrenalin-fuelled ‘duels against one’s own psyche’ don’t end up demoralizing the very people they are supposed to inspire. Mano a mano confrontations on a Pyrenean col or ‘leaving it all on the road’ in the Étape du Tour can make smaller scale, less ‘glamorous’ achievements diminish by comparison. Cycling even very long distances – unless you’re seriously racing — isn’t that difficult. It isn’t necessarily helpful to make it sound like it is.

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Truth be told, despite my desire to see more women cycling and embracing adventure, I was much more inspired by the three blokes who climbed Mont Ventoux on a Boris bike. That kind of marvellously arbitrary ‘pub-challenge’ inspires me simply because it is so daft. It doesn’t take itself too seriously; no one is investing vast amounts of time and money to make it happen. It is as likely to be enjoyed whether the chaps actually reached the top or didn’t. No doubt it also made everyone who saw them up there smile at the sheer stupidity of the whole exercise. Who wouldn’t be tempted, if their friends suggested doing it? The stakes aren’t high. It would probably be even funnier if you all turned out to be crap.

But then, I like leisure, doing things because I enjoy them, without the need for a faster, higher, stronger (or worthier) goal. Personally, I have had enough setting so-called ‘SMART’ objectives in my work life. I really do not need to strain to achieve any more. At forty-four, the time has long gone for me to ‘optimize my performance’. Even having a ‘PB’ – personal best – at my age seems, frankly, absurd. There’s no need for a power meter to tell me I never was nor ever will be a Victoria Pendleton manqué. Fact is, I like stopping, staring at the landscape and having coffee and café liégeois far too much.

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In fact, getting away from this ‘achievement’ mentality is exactly why I got on my bike in the first place. When I set out for France the first time, eight years ago, it was probably the only time in my life I had no clear idea what I was doing. My goal was simply to set off with no plan and enjoy the journey. I had the vague idea of exploring the history of Europe by bicycle, but the only commitment I made to doing so was that if I wasn’t enjoying it, I’d stop and do something else.

It was immensely liberating to acknowledge that nobody else would notice, let alone care, whether or not I cycled one hundred miles in one day or eleven. That it really didn’t matter if I climbed the Alps with the power and grace of Alberto Contador or if I hitched a lift, got on a bus, or got off and pushed all the way up. My work-focused, goal-orientated drive had been vanquished. This wasn’t a race. ‘Achieving’ wasn’t the point.

And, of course, because I wasn’t staring at my stem and trying to achieve anything, it all became so much easier; there was no strain at all. I revelled in the freedom and enjoyed the possibilities. Questions that in other circumstances might have made me anxious – What if something happens? – suddenly became exciting — What might be around the next corner? Who might I meet on the road?  I became much more confident, not only in myself, but in the world around me. I began to notice things – the changing geography as I cycled southward; the change in the architecture from half-timbering to stone; the different dialects and place-names in different regions; the shift in the seasons and the change in the stars. And in spite of the fears I initially harboured – which is the question women most frequently ask me about my cycle trips – it turned out people are almost universally nicer, more interesting and more generous than I even hoped. I lost count of the dinner invitations, the Bonne Routes!, the people stopping to ask me what I was doing. Loneliness was the least of my problems travelling alone across Europe on my bike.

But if I learnt one thing — and it is the thing I wish I could really communicate — it is that taking your time, and taking risks – not adrenalin-junkie craziness, but day-to-day chances on the unplanned and spontaneous – bring far fewer dangers or disappointments than rewards. There’s no need to strain if you don’t want to; it’s great to potter, to respond to the environment, to ride the road, not the map.

‘Going for gold’ is all very well, but when it comes down to it, it isn’t the miles, or even where you’re going that matters.

It is about what happens, and who you meet, on the way.

Thanks, Victoria! At some point, no doubt, she’ll probably self-publish a book, but until then a couple of blogs from her trips in Germany and Italy are available on the BySpoke blogspot and Omnes Via Romam Perducunt.

Categories
Budgeting & Finance Guest Posts

Save More Money & Have More Fun By WWOOFing Around The World By Bicycle

Today’s guest post is by 28-year-old Erwin Zantinga, a Dutch bicycle traveller who has spent the last six years Working Worldwide On Organic Farms (WWOOFing). Given its obvious relevance to the #freeLEJOG experiment, I asked him if he’d be interested in giving us an introduction to this now well-established world of casual outdoor work on the road. Take it away, Erwin…

It was 2008 and I found myself almost crying because of her departure, a new friend I’d known for just two weeks.

It’d been an intense fortnight of working, eating, talking, dancing and hanging out in lovely Sweden — Eekerö, to be precise — on a small piece of the world called Rosenhill Trädgård, the very first WWOOF farm on which I’d worked.

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My name’s Erwin. I’m not naturally green-fingered, but they quickly became greener (and dirtier!) as I became a more experienced WWOOFer.

I originally found out about this global network of farms through a friend:

“Just try it! It’ll be a great way to spend a free year!”

So off I went to the website of WWOOF Sweden, found a farm that appealed to me and simply called them. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was preparing to travel. I packed my freshly-bought backpack and took a 24-hour bus ride to Sweden, arriving at the farm where I was welcomed by 10 young people asking if I wanted to join them for a game of soccer. I hadn’t even had time to put my backpack down.

This is the essence of WWOOF: togetherness. You become a part of the family you stay with, eating what they eat, sleeping on their land and learning the techniques they use to work with the soil, and sometimes even learning a new language in the process!

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WWOOFing doesn’t feel like work — it feels more like helping somebody out for a couple of hours a day. There were days when you work 12 hours straight, too. But a great group dynamic makes 12 hours of hard work feel like a nice workout. At that first farm, I’d planned to stay for 2 or maybe 3 weeks. It was in December I realized that 5 months had gone by.

Eventually it was time to move on, and I found another farm, just above the Arctic circle, working mostly with husky dogs. Unfortunately I didn’t get on so well with the people I stayed with, so I lasted just 4 days. But WWOOFing does not oblige you to stay. It’s your time, so you can come and go whenever you want to. It wasn’t easy to make the decision to leave so soon, especially since they’d taken me into their home and fed me, but it just wasn’t going to work out.

The next place I went to was Bulgaria. One of the most exciting things about the network is the fact that you have no clue where you will end up and who you will meet. Will it be hippies in a shack on the edge of the forest? Or will it be a family trying to live in a self-sustainable way? What will the work be? How will the food be? Will there be other WWOOFers? Each and every time I find myself surprised, just by going to a farm or smallholding and seeing how the people live there.

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I see the WWOOF movement and long distance bicycle touring as very much compatible, with huge potential for self-sustainability. A bit of weeding, a bit of welding and you’re ready to go again. Last year I cycled back from Hungary to my hometown in 
The Netherlands, and on the way I passed 5 different farms. I stayed for 3 days at each farm, working, as well as interviewing and filming.

Stopping off at WWOOF farms like this has some great advantages. You can rest, using other muscles then your legs.
 You get a real bed (sometimes even a double bed!). You get proper food, made on a real stove or in a real oven.
 You get space and time and proper tools to fix your bike. You have other people to talk to, instead of talking to yourself.
 And in general you get the feeling of staying in one place for more than just a night.
 It’s a change to work with the ground instead of just pedalling for miles on end. You emerge recharged and with renewed energy to continue your trip. 
Connections with your fellow workers are made quickly, too, and you might well find cycling companions with whom to continue riding.

Actually starting WWOOFing is incredibly easy. Simply check online if the country you’re going to (or are already in) has a WWOOF community of its own. If not, check the WWOOF Independents site to see if your country of choice is on their website. You pay a small membership fee in order to see the contact details for the farms. And then you just pick up the phone and call your future hosts. (It’s usually a good idea to call them again a couple of days before you arrive, so you won’t be left standing in front of a locked door.)

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The most beautiful thing about my cycling-WWOOFing experience, I think, was the kindness of the hosts. Normally there is a minimum stay of about a week, but at these farms they happily let me stay for just 2 or 3 days. It was still hard work, of course. But when I left the first farm, they gave me a parting gift: 2 pairs of hand-made knitted socks.

And this is really why I WWOOF: the mutual sense of appreciation.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out my own video documentary about my cycling-WWOOFing experience:

Who knows — maybe we’ll see each other on a WWOOF farm in the future…

Thanks, Erwin! In addition to WWOOF, check out HelpX and Workaway — two work exchange networks on similar missions to enable (money-free) mutual help and appreciation between those who need it and those who can give it.
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Guest Posts On The Road

5 Keys To Relationship Preservation As A Couple On A Cycle Tour

Today’s guest post is from Simon Thompson, who I nagged to share his experiences of travelling with a significant other. He’s generously entertained my whim and turned in an extremely useful rundown of survival tips for intrepid couples. Take it away, Simon!

Prior to our ‘big trip’, my girlfriend Ruth and I lived in different cities. And, because of my job, when we weren’t living in different cities we lived on different continents. Ours was a weekend relationship punctuated with several three or four month periods of complete separation. By the time we left for our five-month bike trip through South America, we had been going out for three years, but had never spent longer than two weeks together.

What’s more, Ruth didn’t own a touring bike until a few days before departure. She hadn’t biked much since childhood, and we’d only had a couple of short weekend tours together in preparation.

However, we survived. The trip was amazing, and we hope it’s the first of many to come.

For other couples with differing abilities, differing expectations, and differing tolerances, here are the five key lessons we learned on the road:

1. Keep it flexible
We planned nothing beyond the first couple of weeks, and tried to take a wardrobe that would allow us to become backpackers if cycle touring didn’t work out. Knowing nothing about the future let us take our time over the present and made the whole thing less imposing.

2. Accept differences
I can’t speak Spanish, and am a very lazy cook. Ruth can’t read a map without becoming a bit nauseous, and doesn’t know her bottom bracket from her elbow. It took us a while to realize it, but when we each played to our strengths and ignored the resultant guilt of not working on our weaknesses, we actually had everything covered.

3. Be open
In the early days I hoarded worries and concerns, not wanting to bring them up in case they soured the experience. Ruth always weedled them out of me, and it felt so much better for them to be out in the open. When there were inevitable interpersonal meltdowns (usually when the weather turned and we were hungry), we tried to not dwell on them and make sure we didn’t hold back and were open about everything.

4. Be realistic
Don’t expect constant romance. Before the trip we had visions of sitting outside our tent and watching the stars, and being bowled over by a wave of romance. In reality, by the time we set up camp we were usually exhausted, frequently stinky, and invariably freezing. We wolfed down our dinner and were usually asleep before 9. To keep the magic alive, we indulged on occasion with bike-free breaks in nice hotels.

5. Make it comfortable
I think my most important contribution to the trip was making a huge down quilt. This, along with a double sleeve for our sleeping mats, made our tent comfortable, cozy, and warm. With Ruth turning an otherwise mundane meal into something more savoury (usually thanks to plenty of chorizo and whiskey) we always knew that wherever we were and however tired we might be, we could set up camp and it would be a pleasant experience for us both. This gave us much more freedom than if camping had represented a last resort.

Our tour, though a relatively short and luxurious one compared to others that often appear on this blog, taught us some harsh lessons, and made each of us confront some uncomfortable truths. But we came through the experience with some amazing memories and a relationship that is stronger and better founded as a result. And these things learnt in foreign lands may well prove most useful when facing challenges a little closer to home…